Brian James Freeman is one of those writers that someone, some day, is going to call an “overnight success,” completely ignorant of the fact that the guy has been pounding a keyboard for years, honing his craft and developing his voice the way all good writers do.
I say this because Freeman’s 2010 novella The Painted Darkness brought him all kinds of attention, and he seems poised to be one of those “next big things.” That’s what happens when guys like Richard Matheson and David Morrell rave about your stuff – people start looking to see what you’re going to do next. What Freeman has done is offer us a peek at the earlier stages of his career with More Than Midnight, a collection of five previously-published short stories now available from Cemetery Dance. While the stories themselves may not be as transcendent as The Painted Darkness, they’re full of the kind of pulpy goodness that we just don’t get enough of these days.
Take, for example, “Pulled Into Darkness,” my personal favorite of the collection. Freeman gives us the classic setup of a stalk-n-slash movie: A man and his young daughter in an isolated house on a stormy night. On the television, news of a riot at a nearby mental health facility, the very same facility where the man’s wife (the daughter’s mother) has been locked up for allegedly trying to kill her family. Now she’s on the loose, leaving a trail of bodies behind her…and the power just went out…
Think you know where it’s going? Think again. Freeman takes the obvious conclusion and deftly twists it on its head. Granted, seasoned readers of horror fiction will likely spot the twist coming, but by giving us two possible scenarios Freeman keeps us guessing right up to the last page.
You get the sense that Freeman was having a ball writing these, telling his own little campfire tales and hoping they’d find an audience. His enjoyment is infectious – just try reading the scene in “Among Us” when the mysterious bosses of a giant law firm begin undressing and intoning “Join Us!” in front of a batch of newly-minted partners without relishing the realization that things are about to go bad for someone. These stories are full of little moments like that, and if you’re like me you’ll enjoy every one.
I have one suggestion for those able to snag a copy – don’t read these stories in the order they are presented in the book. Take a look instead at the copyright page and read them in the order they were originally published. What you’ll get is a glimpse of a young writer gleefully playing with everything the genre has to offer while laying the foundation for what’s likely to be a highly successful career.
I can’t let the review end without giving a tip of the hat to the illustrations of Glenn Chadbourne, whose insanely detailed black-and-white drawings serve as the perfect punctuation marks at the end of these stories. Top it all off with a mesmerizing cover by Vincent Chong and you’ve got a total package that’s well worth hunting up.